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Chapter 3


The prior finding that he was somewhat advanced in years, and that God had sent him a nephew for his consolation, took it into his head that he would resign his benefice in his favor, if he succeeded in baptizing him and of making him enter into orders.

The Huron had an excellent memory. A good constitution, inherited from his ancestors of Lower Britany, strengthened by the climate of Canada, had made his head so vigorous that when he was struck upon it he scarce felt it; and when any thing was graven in it, nothing could efface it. Nothing had ever escaped his memory. His conception was the more sure and lively, because his infancy had not been loaded with useless fooleries, which overwhelm ours. Things entered into his head without being clouded. The prior at length resolved to make him read the New Testament. The Huron devoured it with great pleasure; but not knowing at what time, or in what country all the adventures related in this book had happened, he did not in the least doubt that the scene of action had been in Lower Britany; and he swore, that he would cut off Caiphas and Pontius Pilate's ears, if ever he met those scoundrels.

His uncle, charmed with this good disposition, soon brought him to the point. He applauded his zeal, but at the same time acquainted him that it was needless, as these people had been dead upwards of 1690 years. The Huron soon got the whole book by heart. He sometimes proposed difficulties that greatly embarrassed the prior. He was often obliged to consult the Abbé St. Yves, who, not knowing what to answer, brought a Jesuit of Lower Britany to perfect the conversion of the Huron.

Grace, at length, operated; and the Huron promised to become a Christian. He did not doubt but that the first step toward it was circumcision.

"For," said he, "I do not find in the book that was put into my hands a single person who was not circumcised. It is therefore evident, that I must make a sacrifice to the Hebrew custom, and the sooner the better."

He sent for the surgeon of the village, and desired him to perform the operation. The surgeon, who had never performed such an operation, acquainted the family, who screamed out. The good Miss Kerkabon trembled lest her nephew, whom she knew to be resolute and expeditious, should perform the operation unskillfully himself; and that fatal consequences might ensue.

The prior rectified the Huron's mistake, representing to him, that circumcision was no longer in fashion; that baptism was much more gentle and salutary; that the law of grace was not like the law of rigor. The Huron, who had much good sense, and was well disposed, disputed, but soon acknowledged his error, which seldom happens in Europe among disputants. In a word, he promised to let himself be baptized whenever they pleased.

But before baptism it was necessary that he should go to confession, and this was the greatest difficulty to surmount. The Huron had still in his pocket the book his uncle gave him. He did not there find that a single apostle had ever been confessed, and this made him very restive. The prior silenced him, by showing him, in the epistle of St. James the Minor, these words: "Confess your sins to one another." The Huron was mute, and confessed his sins to a Recollet. When he had done, he dragged the Recollet from the confessional chair, and seizing him with a vigorous arm, placed himself in his seat, making the Recollet kneel before him:

"Come, my friend, it is said, 'we must confess our sins to one another;' I have related to you my sins, and you shall not stir till you recount yours."

Whilst he said this, he fixed his great knee against his adversary's stomach. The Recollet roared and groaned, till he made the church re-echo. The noise brought people to his assistance, who found the catechumen cuffing the monk in the name of St. James the Minor. The joy diffused at the baptizing at once a Low-Breton, a Huron, and an Englishman, surmounted all these singularities. There were even some theologians of opinion that confession was not necessary, as baptism supplied the place of every thing.

The Bishop of St. Malo was chosen for the ceremony, who flattered, as may be believed, at baptizing a Huron, arrived in a pompous equipage, followed by his clergy. Miss St. Yves put on her best gown to bless God, and sent for a hair dresser from St. Malo's, to shine at the ceremony. The inquisitive bailiff brought the whole country with him. The church was magnificently ornamented. But when the Huron was summoned to attend the baptismal font, he was not to be found.

His uncle and aunt sought for him every where. It was imagined that he had gone a hunting, according to his usual custom. Every one present at the festival, searched the neighboring woods and villages; but no intelligence could be obtained of the Huron. They began to fear he had returned to England. Some remembered that he had said he was very fond of that country. The prior and his sister were persuaded that nobody was baptized there, and were troubled for their nephew's soul. The bishop was confounded, and ready to return home. The prior and the Abbé St. Yves were in despair. The bailiff interrogated all passengers with his usual gravity. Miss Kerkabon melted into tears. Miss St. Yves did not weep, but she vented such deep sighs, as seemed to testify her sacramental disposition. They were walking in this melancholy mood, among the willows and reeds upon the banks of the little river Rence, when they perceived, in the middle of the stream, a large figure, tolerably white, with its two arms across its breast. They screamed out, and ran away. But, curiosity being stronger than any other consideration, they advanced softly amongst the reeds; and when they were pretty certain they could not be seen, they were willing to descry what it was.

Francois-Marie Arouet Voltaire

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